Ho Chi Minh is revered in Vietnam. He was both prime minister and president of North Vietnam and played a key role in the early stages of the Vietnam War. And what better way to honour a beloved leader than to embalm his body and have it on permanent display at the Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum.
However, that is not what Uncle Ho, as he was popularly known as, wanted. Just before his death in 1969, he had left strict instructions that his ashes should be buried in the hills throughout both North and South Vietnam. However, his colleagues thought better. Instead, upon his death, they went ahead and promptly decided to build a mausoleum instead.
A visit to the mausoleum complex isn’t only about viewing the embalmed body of Ho Chi Minh. The complex is quite a vast area with several things to see, including Ba Dinh Square, the Presidential Palace with Ho Chi Minh’s Stilt House, the Ho Chi Minh Museum and the One Pillar Pagoda.
Ba Dinh Square
When you head to the complex, the first thing that you see is the huge square in front of the mausoleum. It’s the largest square anywhere in Vietnam.
It’s the very same one from where Ho Chi Minh read the Declaration of Independence on the 2nd of September 1945, establishing the Democratic Republic of Vietnam. It’s also the site when, 24 years later, Ho Chi Minh’s funeral was held.
Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum
The mausoleum is new. Construction on the mausoleum started on the 2nd of September 1973 and was completed on the 29th of August 1975. It’s been built in the center of Ba Dinh Square.
While its original architectural inspiration is Lenin’s mausoleum in Moscow, it brings in many Vietnamese features, including the main structure itself which is meant to symbolise an open lotus.
There are two platforms that have been erected on the side for the annual parade viewing. The area in front of the mausoleum is divided into 240 green squares. The garden around it has around 250 different species of plants and flowers from all over Vietnam.
If you do plan to visit the mausoleum, a few pointers to keep in mind. There is a long line and you need to be there early if you want to make it in. However, once in, then it’s not too much time that you have – approximately three minutes. You aren’t allowed to pause. That means, it’s a steady walk in and out of the mausoleum with perhaps a few seconds to pay your homage to Ho Chi Minh.
There are guards to ensure that order is maintained. They are also very strict about the dress code. That means no shorts, mini-skirts, sleeveless shirts and tank tops. You aren’t allowed to take your mobile phone, camera either or any recording device. Above all, be dignified and mind your manners.
Entry to the mausoleum is free. It’s open five days a week, from Tuesday through to Sunday, 8 to 11am. However, I suggest that you check actual opening hours as they change depending on the time of the year you go.
Ho Chi Minh Museum
The museum is located within the complex itself and is a short walk from the mausoleum.
Ho Chi Minh Museum was opened on the 19th of May 1990, the 100th birthday of Ho Chi Minh. It is a documentation of his life, broken down into eight topics in chronological order.
However, unlike other museums across Vietnam, this one is especially modern both in terms of thought and presentation. Installments seem to jut out of walls and from beneath the floor, while artifacts and miniatures hang tantalisingly from the ceiling. It’s a heady mix of socialism and kitsch pop art.
There is an entry fee of VND 10,000 per person. You can opt for a guided tour if you wish, for an extra fee. It’s open from 8 to 11:30am and 2 to 4:30pm every day except on Mondays and Friday, when it is open only from 8am to 12 noon
One Pillar Pagoda
It’s right there, between the museum and the mausoleum, and is considered an iconic temple. The One Pillar Pagoda is popular among both Vietnamese and tourists alike.
The temple was originally built during the reign of Emperor Ly Thai Tong, ruler from 1028 to 1054. Legend has it that the emperor, who was childless then, had a dream wherein he was gifted a baby son resting on a lotus flower. He went ahead and married a peasant girl, who bore him a son. In gratitude, the emperor constructed the temple in 1049. Look closely and it resembles a lotus flower rising on its stem in the middle of the pond.
The pagoda has undergone many renovations, most recently in 1954 when the French, while withdrawing from Vietnam, destroyed it. It was subsequently rebuilt, though how much of the original design was reincorporated is difficult to assess.
Entrance is free and the pagoda is open daily from 8am to 5pm. There are a few stalls around the pagoda. If you need to take a break and rest a bit, this is the right spot.
The Presidential Palace and Ho Chi Minh’s Stilt House
Adjacent to the mausoleum is the Presidential Palace, with Ho Chi Minh’s Stilt House within the gated compound.
Luxurious and expensive when being constructed, the Presidential Palace was the headquarter of the Indochina Governor. Rock, tiles and brick were sourced from factories in Vietnam, while fir, window bars and glass were imported from France and other European countries.
Story goes that When Vietnam achieved independence in 1954, Ho Chi Minh refused to live in the palace, although he received state guests there.
Instead, a small stilt home was built for him in the corner of the Presidential Palace gardens. Based on designs provided by Ho Chi Minh himself, it’s a small 2-storey house, with a couple of rooms – a study and a bedroom. It’s here that he lived from 1958 right until his death in 1969. His house and the grounds were made into the Presidential Palace Historical Site in 1975.
Access to the Presidential Palace is closed to the public though parts of the ground including the stilt house are open. There is an entry fee of VND 40,000 to see the stilt house. It is open daily, from 8am to 4pm except on Mondays when it is open from 8 to 11am.
Information you can use
Once you reach the complex, some of the sites have an entry fee, while others do not. Ask before you decide. I’d also suggest that you dress modestly, irrespective of the time of the year you are there.
Depending on where you are staying in the city, the easiest way to get to the Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum complex is to hop into a metered taxi. They are reliable and go by the meter.
In case you feel thirsty or hungry, stop by at any of the restaurants and coffee shops immediately beyond the Presidential Palace.